Bacik warns atheist convention of 'creeping fundamentalism in Irish life'


LABOUR PARTY Senator Ivana Bacik warned in Dublin last night of “a creeping fundamentalism in Irish life” which was “a real problem we have”.

She would approve, she said, a ban on genital mutilation of males in Ireland. Last Thursday she received unanimous support in the Seanad for her proposals to ban female genital mutilation in Ireland. The “creeping fundamentalism” she referred to was evident in the US, she said, but in Ireland it was “perhaps more sophisticated, where columnists talk of choice, yet oppose change where Catholic schools are concerned”, she said.

She cited the introduction by the previous government of new blasphemy legislation, a move akin to that praised in Pakistan as a victory for the fundamentalist lobby.

Ms Bacik was speaking at the first World Atheist Convention in Ireland, which began in Dublin yesterday and continues through the weekend. Organised by Atheist Ireland, on Sunday it will discuss and adapt the Dublin Declaration on Religion in Public Life.

Presenting herself as “the only ‘out’ atheist in the Oireachtas”, the Senator knew “quite a few others who were either atheist or agnostic”, but who remain “in the closet for now”. What she and others in Atheist Ireland sought was “a modern secular Republic where religions thrive side by side, with no dominant religion”.

As with the Swedish saying, it would be a place where “in school you teach, in church you preach”, she said. “In Ireland we have far too much preaching in school,” she said.

She said atheism was “profoundly moral. Its central tenet is respect for others’ beliefs, with an emphasis on combining reason and compassion. Ground rules for human behaviour are not just the construct of religion,” she said.

Commenting that in Ireland “we live in remarkable times”, she said “all our gods have crumbled . . . sacred texts, infallible truths have been exposed as shams”. She was struck by the “comparison between the unquestioning deference shown to bankers, developers, and economic authorities with that shown to religious authority” in Ireland.

Irish people were “too slow to challenge orthodoxy, not quick enough to question”.

In a panel discussion later on “Weird Science versus Weird Religion”, renowned atheist Prof Richard Dawkins said scientists were “not authority figures. They use a method. It’s the best method we’ve got of getting at the truth, even if it’s not perfect.”

Science does make mistakes, he said, adding that “if science can’t get at the truth, nothing else can”. It had “mystery and magic of its own. Scientists love mystery. It’s a challenge to solve, and opens the curtains to yet more mysteries which are as tantalising and mysterious.”

Quantum theory was “deeply mysterious, beyond the impoverished imaginings of any theologian, or of eastern mysticism”.

Predictions of Quantum theory “could be made to the smallest number of decimal places, and was almost certain to be right. There was “no such data on any theological claims made”, he said.